Baseball

McKenzie takes historic trip around diamond in 13-2 victory over UT-RGV

Jake McKenzie (Will Gallagher/IT)
Jake McKenzie (Will Gallagher/IT)

An idea that was planted in Texas head coach David Pierce’s head in the fall to honor his ultra-utility man came to fruition on Tuesday, as senior Jake McKenzie played all nine positions in a single game.

McKenzie started at catcher, the only position he had yet to play in 2018. Each successive inning he moved to a new position, rotating around the infield for the second, third, fourth and fifth. When Texas’ lead got into run-rule territory, McKenzie was forced to play all three outfield positions in the sixth. In the seventh, the Dallas senior recorded the final two outs on the mound to finish Texas’ 13-2 run-rule victory over UT-RGV.

“Tonight was not any disrespect to Rio Grande Valley and definitely not any disrespect to baseball,” Pierce said following the game. “It was a tribute to our true utility guy, and it was exciting to watch. Really excited that we pulled it off.”

The true utility man had to make use of five different gloves, all his, including a catcher’s mitt he hadn’t used since his high school years. After the catcher’s mitt, he used his familiar first baseman’s mitt, followed by the same glove for the three other infield positions. He used his outfield glove in the sixth, before using a different glove from his infield mitt to pitch the last two outs of the seventh.

McKenzie was not a passive participant and joined the action in the first inning. After the Vaqueros’ third hitter reached on an infield single that got past junior first baseman DJ Petrinsky, McKenzie was there to field the errant throw and help retire the runner 6-3-2-4-3 and keep his inning behind the plate to the minimum.

“My knees and hips will be a little bit sore tomorrow,” McKenzie said on playing behind the plate.

In the second, he began a 3-2-3 double-play to prevent RGV from scoring the first run of the game. He then fielded a throw from sophomore shortstop David Hamilton to end the only threat RGV posed all evening.

“The 3-2-3 was cool,” McKenzie said. “I didn’t expect DJ to even come back to me with it. I guess the runner got a slow start out of the box. We had time to get two on that one.”

The idea of playing a player in all nine positions over all nine innings is great in theory, but struggles to become a reality without run support. That run support came in the second inning.

Hamilton hit a two-run home run, the first of his career at Disch-Falk Field, to give Texas a 2-0 advantage. A RBI single from junior outfielder Tate Shaw made it 3-0, giving the Longhorns an extra cushion to work with.

Junior infielder Kody Clemens made sure there was nothing to worry about the rest of the game, as his grand slam over the right field fence gave the Longhorns a 7-0 lead that made the trek around the diamond a much easier task to manage for Pierce. The four RBIs in the slam were part of Clemens’ six RBI evening.

“It allowed me to breathe because it was a rough night for me mentally,” Pierce said about the slam. “I had a plan. I knew it was going to work.”

The memorable night for McKenzie had yet another memorable play in the third inning. After a leadoff single, eventual winning pitcher Matteo Bocchi got a Vaquero batter to pop up to McKenzie. He then had his hand, literally, all over the next play.

Hamilton fielded a grounder and flipped it to McKenzie. McKenzie grabbed it with his bare hand, and fired to first to end the frame.

“The double play with David was cool, too, up the middle,” McKenzie said. “It was fun.”

In the fifth, Hamilton knocked a bases clearing triple to give Texas a 13-1 lead, putting the game in run-rule territory. In order to make sure his utility guy played all the positions, Hamilton played one-third of an inning at each outfield spot.

As McKenzie moved from spot to spot, the fans in attendance began to realize what was taking place just as Pierce had planned.

“I really wanted it to be viewed very similar to a no-hitter,” Pierce said. “You watch it progress. You watch it develop. As you watch it develop, then you realize, and the fans realized about the fifth inning. You could hear them chanting every spot he went.”

McKenzie could not warm up for very long before the seventh since he was due up second in the bottom of the sixth. He got a couple of warm-up pitches in, including a few errant sliders, before playing in right for junior Chris Fearon’s one-third of an inning.

It got somewhat interesting, as McKenzie gave up a deep flyout and walked two to load the bases. It was understandable at that point because of the physical toll playing eight positions took.

“I didn’t realize how tired I would be after playing all the other ones,” McKenzie said. “They told me I would be, but I didn’t believe them.”

Despite the fatigue, McKenzie earned a lineout and a curtain call after the game from the Disch-Falk crowd.

“It’s obviously a pretty humbling experience that (Pierce) would give me that honor to be able to play all nine in one game,” McKenzie said. “He’s putting himself out on a limb doing that, maybe jeopardizing a Tuesday game which we obviously don’t want to lose any of them. It’s a huge honor.”

Pierce said he and McKenzie had the idea to play all nine positions in a game in the fall, and spoke with his senior following the Oklahoma series about possibly doing it this week in one of the midweek games.

“It was in the fall when I started thinking about it because I just know what he means to this program and I know what he brings to the team every single day,” Pierce said.

McKenzie entered the program as a walk-on and received time at multiple positions in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Tonight was Pierce’s opportunity to say thank you for the hard work McKenzie had put in over his career.

“Everything he represents as a student, the honors he’s received in the engineering department, then as a great leader and a great teammate, he’s the perfect guy for it,” Pierce said.

For Pierce, it was likely the best way to start a week where Texas should be able to go 5-0.

“This is four more games that are important to our resume,” Pierce said. “It’s important that we play the game the right way, and I thought we did great tonight.”